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Photo courtesy of Marta Staudinger
Photo courtesy of Marta Staudinger

‘Coalesce’ Exhibition Finds Synergy in Separation

Art galleries have a somewhat unfair reputation for being unapproachable and designed for a niche audience, but for Marta Staudinger and Christine Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition, the opposite could not have been truer.

As I stepped into The Bryne Gallery in quaint Middleburg, Virginia, I felt enveloped in a warm, golden embrace that seemed to reflect off the various art pieces around the room and what I saw were vibrant creations from Staudinger and Olmstead that felt youthful and energetic without feeling overwhelming.

Perhaps the most surprising aspect of the exhibition, though, was that both artists had incredibly distinctive styles of abstract painting, but they didn’t clash; Staudinger and Olmstead’s styles “coalesced” in a way that allowed each artist to stand out but still feel like one in the same, much like telling the same story from different points of view.

With such different styles, I wondered how the two decided to create art together. Staudinger admits that the thought never really crossed their minds until they kept finding themselves being connected through their art: they were commissioned to create a piece each that was meant to complement each other, then Olmstead had an exhibition in Staudinger’s gallery in DC.

It was there that “the man who hung our works from that [aforementioned] commission for this corporate client is one of the co-owners of the gallery and he saw a lot of synergy between our work,” Staudinger says.

It also helps that when the two started this project together over the summer, they agreed to use the same color palette: mostly earthy tones like greens, blues, reds with bolder colors like copper and gold.

Staudinger’s take on the palette included works that often felt like looking at a landscape with lots of use of texture, straight lines and panels of color with names for the pieces like “Turquoise Pearl Frost” and “On Cloud 9.”

A standout of Staudinger’s was a largely white canvas with four deep red vertical strokes named “Catalunya,” a statement piece that incorporates elements of the Catalan flag and history.

Olmstead’s interpretation of the agreed-upon color palette was much more flowy and softer than Staudinger’s, but still with glimpses of boldness and texture as well. And where Staudinger’s pieces looked like staring into the distance, Olmstead’s felt close and personal, almost like a zoomed-in look at a flower. Each of Olmstead’s pieces had names that started with “Don’t Stop” and ended in multiple variations like “Don’t Stop 16” and “Don’t Stop Making Mistakes” – little reminders for herself, Olmstead says, to never stop looking for the goodness in life and growing as a person.

One of Olmstead’s standout pieces (perhaps not surprisingly next to Staudinger’s “Catalunya”) was “Don’t Stop Seeing the Light,” a canvas of light blues and greys as the backgrounds with layers of reds, browns and coppers built on top, slightly less big than the layer before to create a focal point of sorts. The final touch was dashes of gold flake paint that acted like cracks of light breaking through the grey.

“I ended up gravitating more towards some colors and Marta gravitated a little more towards other,” Olmstead says. “I think you can see that they’re all in the same palette but her works maybe have a little more of one color and mine tend to have a little bit more of another.”

While the two artists had different takes on and inspirations for their individual works, Staudinger says they shared an overall design for the exhibition, although an unusual one; instead of a curator seeking them out to feature a series of their works, they “created these pieces together to be site specific,” Staudinger says.

But that was where their collaborating in-person roughly ended – each piece they created was made in their separate work spaces in different towns. The two wouldn’t see each other’s finished works until they would meet at the gallery to set up the exhibition.

And so we all found ourselves in a small gallery in the middle of rural Virginia with two artists who’s styles are wildly different, and yet complimentary. After listening to people’s conversations around the room, and seeing for myself, I’d say we all agree that whatever creative spark Staudinger and Olmstead share, we want more collaboration between them in the future.

“I love that we’ve been able to share experiences and vulnerabilities and techniques and formulas…without really bleeding into each other’s styles,” Olmstead says. “The pieces look so different and we both have very distinct styles [but] our pieces are of the same soul and of the same flavor because, as Marta said, we are people of the same flavor.”

Check out Staudinger and Olmstead’s “Coalesce” exhibition at The Byrne Gallery in Middleburg, Virginia. The exhibition run’s until November 4.

The Byrne Gallery: 7 W Washington St. Middleburg, VA; 540-687-6986; www.byrnegallery.com

Photo: Courtesy of Wentworth Galleries
Photo: Courtesy of Wentworth Galleries

KISS Guitarist Paul Stanley Shows Artistic Flair

Members of the KISS Army know singer and guitarist Paul Stanley designed the iconic logo that has represented the rock band since the early 70s before rising to prominence and selling more than 100 million records worldwide.

But what many might not realize is the legendary rocker behind such hits as “God of Thunder,” “Love Gun” and “Detroit Rock City” is just as comfortable with a paintbrush as he is with a Washburn guitar.

“I started painting about 18 years ago,” Stanley says. “It really started out as a stream of consciousness and a way to purge while I was going through a tumultuous time in my life. I never planned on showing any of my work. It was for myself.”

Inevitably, friends and family would pop over to his house and ask about the artwork, not realizing that the Rock and Roll Hall of Famer was the master behind them.

“It was about 15 years ago when a gallery owner first asked me to exhibit, and I was pretty leery of it because I never had that in mind,” he says. “Curiosity got the best of me, and low and behold, people were taking some of my pieces home. I was surprised and thrilled.”

There was so much love for his artwork that Stanley decided to put it on display more regularly. This month, his work will be showcased at the Wentworth Gallery’s two DC area locations: Westfield Montgomery Mall in Bethesda on September 14 and Tysons Galleria on September 15.

“These are works from my entire career. It’s interesting to see the journey, so to speak. I’ve always made the rule with painting – just like everything in my life – that there are no rules. I paint from the heart and the soul.”

His collection includes paintings, mixed media, limited edition prints and hand-painted acrylic sculptures at a wide range of price points.

“I’ve had no schooling and I’m really not interested in the intricacies of documenting what I see. I’m more interested in creating an impression and letting the viewer see what they do. The one thing that all my work has [in common] is an abundance of color. I believe the more color, the more you are designing who you are and how you see the world.”

The Starchild – Stanley’s KISS persona – understands that many of those interested in his art are fans of the band, and he expects a great deal of KISS Army members to attend. But he’s also attracting those in the art world and establishing himself as something of a critical darling.

“I would be foolish to claim that KISS fans won’t come, and I welcome that and want that,” he says. “Still, the larger pieces ultimately are being acquired by collectors and many know nothing about KISS or don’t like KISS. I’m thrilled to see a piece go from the gallery to someone’s wall.”

The top collectors of Stanley’s art will have a chance to join him for dinner after each gallery show.

Paul Stanley will be exhibiting his art at Wentworth Gallery in Westfield Montgomery Mall (7101 Democracy Blvd. Bethesda, MD) from 6-9 p.m. on Friday, September 14 and from 6-9 p.m. on Saturday, September 15 at Wentworth Gallery Tysons Galleria (1807 U. International Dr. McLean, VA).

Admission is free, but RSVPs are highly suggested due to the expected large turnout.

For more information and pricing inquiries, visit www.wentworthgallery.com. To learn more about Stanley’s art, visit www.paulstanley.com/artwork.

Photos: Michael Loria
Photos: Michael Loria

Americans at the National Museum of the American Indian

The main gallery space of “Americans,” a new long-term exhibit at the National Museum of the American Indian, has the immersive feel of Nam June Paik’s “Megatron/Matrix” at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art on F Street. Though it isn’t frenetic like Paik’s field of TVs, “Americans” is still mesmerizing, and has the same quality of making familiar objects appear strange.

“Americans” doesn’t read like a typical museum exhibit, and the feeling it leaves you with is quite different as well. This is due to the question that the exhibit poses, which museum director Kevin Gover shared in an exhibit preview before the public opening on January 18. 

“American Indian images, words and stories are all around. Why?”

The exhibit goes into the commonly referenced American Indian stories of Pocahontas, Little Big Horn, The Trail of Tears and Thanksgiving, but it’s the main gallery space that has the most palpable effect, and which so plainly encapsulates Gover’s words.

View from main gallery space.

Stand in the center of the main gallery space, and all around you will see how American Indian imagery is ubiquitous in American branding and how American Indian words are ubiquitous in American geography. You will see countless schools and spirits that take their imagery from American Indians, and there’s even a poster of Cher in an American Indian headdress.

Granted, many of the objects on display come from an older generation, but there are so many more which we encounter still, including Land O’Lakes butter, any number of sports teams (the Washington team chief among them), American Spirit cigarettes and, on the wall, there’s even a deactivated Tomahawk missile.

One Flew Over the Cuckoo's Nest plays at one end of the gallery

One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest playing in the gallery

The side galleries that go into the aforementioned stories are very interesting and enlightening (e.g., did you know that John Smith was a fabulist and Pocahontas likely never saved his life in so dramatic a fashion, but that her marriage to John Rolfe still saved the life of the colony?) But it’s the main gallery space that is not to be missed.

The main gallery even made me reconsider my Hydro Flask canteen, which I was drinking from during the preview. There isn’t anything particularly American Indian about Hydro Flask, but it’s the Wyoming state sticker on my canteen that gave me pause.

IMG_2186

The sticker depicts a bison, and what is that bison but a synecdoche for American Indian imagery otherwise? Will I remove it? No, probably not. I have the sticker because it reminds me of a summer spent camping with friends in Wyoming and Utah, and that reason still stands. But I also won’t ever look at my canteen in a so “la vie en rose” way again.

“Americans” is on view every day from 10 a.m. – 5 p.m. Learn more about the exhibit here

National Museum of the American Indian: 4th Street and Independence Avenue in SW, DC; 202-633-1000; www.nmai.si.edu

"The last image of an american indian i saw was i looked in the mirror"

“The last image of an American Indian I saw was when I looked in the mirror.”